What a treat is this disc; one of my favorite "new discoveries" in a long while. And I just shake my head at the injustice that these glorious works are just now receiving their premier recordings. While big name labels continue to spew out endless reissues (will DG ever get over Herbert von Karajan? Will Warner ever stop reissuing rehashed EMI stuff?), I am eternally grateful to great independent labels such as Naxos and Chandos (to name just two) which consistently give us interesting, worthwhile, indispensable releases like this one. It really is wonderful.
Each of these concertos is a gem. The best of the bunch (for me anyway) is the most recently composed: the fabulous Paul Patterson Concerto #2, composed in 2013 for the soloist on this Naxos disc, Clare Howick. It is musically absorbing, with gorgeous melodic creativity and rich, colorful orchestration. It captures one's interest from beginning to end. For those adventurous collectors fortunate enough to be familiar with this composer's 1981 Concerto for Orchestra (recorded for EMI with the LPO conducted by Owain Arwel Hughes), you will be pleased to hear his new concerto is a far superior work. It has a naturally flowing structure, an ease of musical expression via truly inspired melodic invention, and a sense of direction and purpose missing from his earlier work. In contrast, his Concerto for Orchestra sounds as if he's simply trying too hard to be "modern" and virtuosic for the sake of its title. In the end, it sounds busy and, frankly, rather noisy. This 2nd Violin Concerto shows how much he has matured as a composer in the intervening 30 years. As a matter of fact, I enjoyed this violin concerto so much, I want to explore the 2011 Dutton CD release presenting his First Violin Concerto, along with his Viola and Cello Concertos.
The Concertos by Keith Leighton and Gordon Jacob were both written in the early 1950s and are just as marvelous as the Patterson. They are a bit more serious and dramatic, and also have some terrifically exciting passages as well - try the Scherzo of the Leighton and the opening Allegro con Brio of the Jacob for an idea of the incredible music on offer here.
And these works could not possibly have stronger advocates than they receive here. Violinist Clare Howick possesses a rich, wooden sound, not unlike Zukerman's. And her playing is absolutely fabulous - at all times assured, effortlessly virtuosic, imaginative and musical. Grant Llewellyn always impresses me any time I encounter a recording with him on the podium, and he proves to be a strong and sympathetic accompanist here with the brilliant BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. All of it is captured in splendid Naxos sound.
I heartily recommend this disc to all lovers of big, Romantic, 20th-Century violin concertos. These works deserve to become part of the standard repertoire. And once again, we owe Naxos a debt of gratitude for continuing to bring us rare and wonderful new repertoire.
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